Maastricht, The Netherlands Report of what it's like to live there

Personal Experiences from Maastricht, The Netherlands

Maastricht, The Netherlands 10/13/11

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No. Also in the UK for the 5 years prior to NL.

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

About 12 hours back to the US.

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3. How long have you lived here?

One year several years ago.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Husband's job.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Narrow, attached homes with very steep staircases.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Quite high. Much higher than in the US, in our opinion.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Local restaurants are uniformly good and many are great. Lots of options. Most very family friendly as well.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

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6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Mosquitoes.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Pelikkan is excellent, to a US standard.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Fluency would help but I fear even then you would still be an outsider. You can get by on English only but you will not be perceived well and will never truly fit in. Even when I learned Dutch, people spoke dialect around me and I continued to be lost.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Yes. Bus drivers can be very intolerant, though, if your Dutch is poor, even if you try to speak it. They often will pretend not to understand and we were even asked to leave until someone riding the bus stepped in to help- and I speak some Dutch, though clearly my accent isn't up to standard!

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

We were taxed extortionately for our new-ish SUV and also for our very old family sedan. Taxes are shocking and maintenance is also very expensive. Bicycle if you can.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

We are US citizens and weren't able to qualify for a monthly contract, even with my husband's company's help, we could only get pay as you go.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

Not from the UK.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

Superb pet care. They were much nicer to our pets than to us!

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

Yes. There are lots of jobs for expats, but the work environment can be very tough on non-Dutch. There is a fair amount of shutting out the foreigners.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Casual.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Home break-ins are very common. Most people on our street, in an upper middle class neighbourhood, had had a break-in.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Health care is to a reasonable standard however my daughter was treated quite roughly by a doctor in the Netherlands. They are not as gentle with children as they are in the UK and are much more pragmatic and matter of fact, which can be a bit scary for kids.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

Very good.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Rainy, cold and windy. Worse than the UK, according to my kids. Very grey winters.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

UWC Maastricht. A good heart but constant turnover of teachers and children makes it a bit chaotic.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

International school seems very good but local schools are very rigid and don't seem to be accomodating to anyone but mainstream, white Dutch children.

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

Local options or international but with a very long waitlist. Local options are okay but operate exclusively in Dutch, which was very intimidating for my daughter. Also, there is a huge amount of discrimination in all segments of society towards outsiders, especially racial minorities.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Yes.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Large.

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2. Morale among expats:

Frustrated and home sick. There is such a distinct anti-immigrant sentiment in the Netherlands, it's hard to ignore. I've had friends who have been evicted for speaking "foreign" in the garden. Friends who have been criticized for buying "their foreign" food in the supermarket and our own kids were denied a place in the local school as they were "too difficult to teach" as they hadn't learned enough Dutch at that point. When I pointed out that in the UK and US, the public schools have to take non-English speaking children, they told me that had a hard time believing that was the case.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Expat only. We had several invitations from Dutch friends but they are very rigid and we didn't enjoy such a formal atmosphere (invitations for drinks to last from 8-9:15 for example).We are fully integrated into our community in the UK and, depending on how much alcohol is involved, our get togethers can last all day and well into the night here!

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Great for university age as there is loads of nightlife and it's very safe. Not as good for non-Dutch families.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Overtly tolerant but there is a significant undercurrent of discrimination against anyone who is different that I think would rear its ugly head.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Tremendous. We are an interracial family who have experienced nothing but positive treatment in the UK.In the Netherlands, we were treated very badly and know others who were treated worse. The Dutch are very, very open in their racism. It's not at all uncommon to have Dutch people tell you about the problems they have with Arabs, Israelis, Turkish and Moroccans. Yet, I'd swear they didn't know any of the above personally. Very sad situation. Even the local Gemeente is very difficult to deal with.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Bicycling with the kids to school.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Bicycling, camping, hiking, shopping, outdoor cafes. There is lots to do in Maastricht and the surrounding area.

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Accessibility to Europe. Great, safe bicycle riding. Very safe environment for kids.

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11. Can you save money?

It is very expensive. It would be hard to save unless you are on an expat package.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

No. It was a very hard year for us and our children. Sadly, if you are not white (and perhaps even not Dutch), the discrimination and bigotry is a very real issue.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

car. Pepper spray, as violent crime is very uncommon. The streets are extremely safe at night.

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3. But don't forget your:

bike and a thick skin. The Dutch can be very arrogant and you will constantly hear how superior everything is there.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Our cultural trainer told us to always remember that the Netherlands is a land of mild happiness/contentment. Coming from England, which is a land where a good laugh cures all ills, it was a very hard adjustment. Incidentally, our cultural trainer was Dutch but lived in Germany. Out of choice. Say no more...

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